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Title: Facts, attitudes and strategic choice : Explaining judicial decision making in United States supreme court civil rights and liberties cases 1953-2003
Author: Wilkins, Clair Elizabeth
ISNI:       0000 0004 2701 551X
Awarding Body: The Manchester Metropolitan University
Current Institution: Manchester Metropolitan University
Date of Award: 2011
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As the highest Court of appeal in the United States, the Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Constitution and is the final arbiter of the law. When in 1954 the Court handed down a ruling declaring desegregation unconstitutional it was the first step in a markedly different form of jurisprudence for the institution. Over the past fifty-seven years social issues have taken increasing precedence on the Court's agenda and that time can be characterised by issues such as religious freedom, obscenity, the rights of the criminally accused, the right to terminate a pregnancy, the death penalty and others which are equally contentious appearing with increasing frequency on the Court's docket. That the Supreme Court has embraced this agenda means that the institution has come under increasing scrutiny. These issues now have a long and rancorous history before the Court and have provoked an astonishing amount of comment, protest, praise and vitriol. The justices have found themselves lauded while at the same time receiving hate mail and death threats. Observers are interested not only in what the Court decides, but also how the justices reach their decisions. Two opposing academic schools of thought have emerged which purport to explain judicial decision making, one of which maintains that the justices are mere legal oracles who make their decisions strictly according to the facts of the case in light of the articles and amendments of the Constitution. The second argues that the justices are purely political beings who seek to maximise their own policy preferences and utilise the law only as a cloak with which to disguise these preferences. Little attempt has been made to combine these factors. This research analyses fifty years of Supreme Court jurisprudence on social issues in an attempt to understand the factors which influence the justices' decisions in such cases. Uniquely, this research combines the theories of the legal and the extralegal schools of thought to create one model of judicial decision making. The findings suggest that the justices are clearly motivated by both legal and by extralegal factors when making their decisions, thus indicating that the Court is both a legal and a political institution and that the justices themselves, while they may be political beings, are political beings who are still bound by the facts of the case, the law and by the Constitution.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available